NHL Game Recap: Florida Panthers vs. Nashville Predators | 03/21/2024

(AP Photo/Jim Rassol)

It was another frustrating game for Panthers fans to watch. Barkov, Kullikov, and Ekblad were all out of the lineup due to injury and suspension, and their absence was rather noticeable. The Florida defense hasn’t looked as sharp as it has been since Ekblad’s injury, and the team missed Barkov’s presence in the faceoff circle. For the second straight game, the Cats haven’t had the advantage in the faceoff circle, and they’ve been outshot for the 2nd time in 3 games. Florida’s in the middle of a three game slump, and they got outworked by Nashville, a team that’s gotten hot over their last 15 games. Florida is a team that’s struggling with key pieces out and the lines in a blender. While normally, I’d try to find a positive takeaway, it’s been very frustrating to watch the team need at least two periods to get themselves sorted to play anywhere close to what their game normally is over the last week and a half.

Outworked and Outplayed:

Florida got dominated by Nashville Thursday night, and it started right from the get-go. The Predators held the offensive zone for the majority of the period and snuffed out any type of Panthers chance in the offensive zone. The Cats didn’t have any net-front presence in the first period, allowing Lankinen clear looks at the shots to make the saves. The Panthers had just five shots on goal in the first period and looked slow like they have in other games recently. Nashville had a better presence in front of the net, which allowed two of their three goals to go in, one getting worked in by Nyquist and another getting a good tip by Forsberg. The Panthers spent the whole first period on the back foot, which continued throughout the 2nd period; it wasn’t until the 3rd that they showed some real life and looked closer to the team fans expect to see. Nashville held the advantage in shots, faceoffs, and the power play. Both teams had the same number of blocked shots, and Florida had the advantage in hits. Overall, it’s evident that the Panthers are in a slump right now. 

Key Pieces Out:

The last couple of weeks have had different key players out at different times. At the moment, the Panthers are missing Barkov, Ekblad, and Kulikov due to injuries and suspensions. Previously, they’ve had Bennett out and Rodrigues, which has thrown the forward lines into absolute chaos. Barkov’s a big presence throughout all of Florida’s gameplay, being on both the PK and PP units, and he plays heavy minutes as well. The biggest part of his game the Panthers are missing right now is his puck handling and faceoff ability. Ekblad is half of the top defensive pairing and helps anchor the defense with Forsling. The pair have been great this season, and his absence is noticeable in how undisciplined and sloppy the defense has looked without him and the usual pairings together. Kulikov being out to suspension meant that the bottom pairing was Mahura, who hasn’t played much until lately, and Uvis Balinskis, who got brought up from Charlotte on an emergency basis. While the pair have played together previously, they haven’t played together this year, and building back that familiarity and chemistry takes time. 

Team Chemistry Completely Off:

The team chemistry has been in a funk since the trade deadline. Sometimes it looks as good as it’s ever been, and more recently, it’s been at the lowest it’s been in months. Some of it can be attributed to working in the new players acquired at the trade deadline. Tarasenko had a bit of a rough first game with the Panthers, but he’s looked good in every game after that. Okposo, on the other hand, hasn’t had as much of an immediate impact as Tarasenko; he’s yet to score a goal as a Panther and doesn’t seem fully comfortable with the system yet. There have been missed passes, poor puck management, and players being used by opponents to bounce pucks into the net. With the forward lines being all over the place, there have been a bunch of different combinations that have players playing with teammates they haven’t played on the same line with for most of the season. For example, to start the 3rd period, HC Paul Maurice put CousinsRodriguesReinhart as the top line and OEL with Montour on the defense. From a fan’s perspective, that’s such an odd combination of players. To start the game, the top line was VerhaegheLundell-Reinhart, and Tarasenko moved down to the 3rd line to play with Luostarinen and Cousins while Rodrigues was on the 2nd line with Bennett and Tkachuk. But that didn’t stay set either, as in the 2nd period, Verhaeghe and Rodrigues swapped places, and Tkachuk’s line moved to the top line. All this is to say that there’s been no consistency from the Panthers lately in the line combinations or in the sense of urgency when playing. While it may be better to slump now than a month from now when the playoffs would start, it is a bit concerning to see how the team has self-sabotaged without certain players in the lineup. The Cats have a back-to-back this weekend against the Rangers and the Fliers.

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